This article shares the research I did for a collagen protein vs. whey comparison of their respective amino acids profiles & the unique benefits each provides.
I looked into this comparison because of drinkable collagen powder’s huge rise in popularity over the past few years, and to check out the results of collagen’s recent clinical trials.
Up ahead I’ll explain how & why whey and collagen protein’s amino acid profile differences matter to our bodies.
I’ll also compare them head-to-head in a number of areas by answering some of the most common questions people ask regarding collagen vs. whey.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.
Collagen protein vs whey: are they the same?
Though both are proteins, collagen & whey have differences:
Their origin — Whey’s from cow’s milk and collagen powder is from the skin & bones of cattle, chicken, or fish.
Their amino acid profiles — Whey’s a complete protein and has high amounts of branched-chain amino acids.
Collagen is an incomplete protein but has high amounts of the amino acids glycine, hydroxyproline, & proline.
Bottom line: Thanks to these differences, whey & collagen protein powders each provide their own set of nutritional benefits to us.
Whey is a complete protein
Having all nine essential amino acids and having high amounts of three of them – the three BCAAs* leucine, isoleucine, & valine – makes whey a popular protein powder supplement for athletes and fitness-oriented people.
(*- Branched-Chain Amino Acids)
This is because complete proteins with all of the essential amino acids that are rich in BCAAs (like whey) have been proven in sports science to provide several important benefits:
Whey’s one of the best protein sources for muscles
- A quickly digestible protein with high amounts of leucine (like whey) is considered the most effective protein for stimulating muscle growth. (1)
Helps boost strength & increase muscle
- Resistance exercise + BCAA-rich protein supplementation increases both strength & lean muscle. (2)
Muscle recovery is faster, damage is less
- BCAAs + essential amino acids improve recovery time for muscles following strength training, and reduce muscle fiber damage too. (3)
Reduces muscle soreness
- Pain from achy muscles after exercise is reduced when taking BCAAs. (4)
Helps maintain muscle when dieting
- Proteins high in leucine (like whey) can help preserve muscle mass even when on a low-calorie diet. (5)
Reduces muscle loss from aging
- Regular (that is, with each meal) consumption of high quality protein slows the process of sarcopenia, the age-related muscle loss that begins at 30. (6)
Since collagen protein lacks one of the nine essential amino acids (tryptophan) and has low amounts of a few others, it’s technically not a nutritionally complete protein.
The implication here being that it is not to be considered one’s main protein source in your diet.
Meaning, any collagen you supplement with shouldn’t replace any of your regular protein choices, whether that be meat, eggs, yogurt, fish, poultry, dairy, beans, tofu, or whatever.
Collagen is high in certain non-essential amino acids
Collagen brings its own set of benefits to us despite being an incomplete protein.
This is because collagen protein is high in three non-essential amino acids* (NEAAs) that aren’t well-known like BCAAs are:
* – They’re called non-essential amino acids because our body can create them, so we don’t have to have them in our diet.
Nearly 60% of collagen protein is made up of these three NEAAs. (9)
Collagen supplement benefits
Below I put together a list of collagen protein’s benefits as reported in clinical trials, along with links to their related research studies.
* arthritis (10)
* exercise-related joint pain (11)
* bone density & bone loss (12)
* skin elasticity (13)
* facial wrinkles (14)
* muscle & strength building (15)
* satiety; feeling full when dieting (16)
* heart health (17)
Is collagen protein better than whey?
Whey & collagen are two different types of proteins, and each have their own distinct benefits for people who consume them in their diet.
It’s true, collagen protein might** be able to do things for us whey can’t like improve the quality of our skin, nails, hair, bone density, & reduce joint pain from arthritic conditions.
** “might” – Not everyone who’s taken collagen supplements has noticed significant improvements in those area I mention above.
But it can’t provide a number of important things to us that whey does (or do it as well), like:
Why isn’t collagen a complete protein?
Collagen is technically considered an incomplete protein because it’s missing an essential amino acid, & is low in other EAAs as well.
In order to be a complete protein, a food needs to have all nine of the essential amino acids and contain them in consistent amounts.
Their list of complete protein foods:
- Dairy (incl. whey)
- Whole sources of soy (tofu, edamame, etc.)
Hydrolyzed collagen powder falls short of the complete protein designation in a couple of ways.
Collagen has no tryptophan in it
* It doesn’t have any tryptophan in it, so it’s short one EAA (essential amino acid), technically excluding collagen powder from the complete protein club. (25)
Collage is very low in BCAAs
* Perhaps more importantly, collagen is also low in the three branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, & valine.
These three essential amino acids are considered by some the most important ones for:
- building lean muscle;
- muscle recovery post-workout;
- reducing muscle soreness;
- reducing exercise fatigue;
- preventing muscle wasting in malnourished people.
Does collagen protein help build muscle?
By itself, collagen protein powder is not the go-to protein choice for anyone serious about building their lean muscle mass.
When it comes to stimulating muscle growth, collagen has not shown that it is as effective as whey in sports science studies (27).
Some researchers think that collagen’s very low amounts of the BCAA leucine (compared to whey) is the reason collagen powder isn’t as good of a muscle builder as whey is.
I’ll go along with that, but would add that having low amounts of some of the other essential amino acids is also an important reason collagen isn’t a top protein choice for muscle & strength development.
After 12 weeks, the researchers found those taking the collagen had greater benefits than the participants who only did the resistance training, noting:
“collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training further improved body composition by increasing fat-free mass, muscle strength and the loss in fat mass.”
Collagen isn’t the best protein supplement choice for you as far as building or maintaining your muscle goes, that’s what whey & creatine are best at.
However it has a few nice benefits of its own to pass along — particularly the help it can provide with joint & arthritic pain — which is why I added it to my diet regimen.
I usually have it in my morning decaf coffee, since it’s tasteless & dissolves very easily.
Is collagen good for weight loss?
Collagen can assist with your weight loss goals.
Being a protein, collagen can keep you feeling satiated or full for longer periods than foods with carbs or certain fats in them.
This can help reduce the amount of both food you eat & your hunger cravings.
Related protein articles here on heydayDo
I hope that my Collagen Protein vs. Whey article is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.